Too many foundations, particularly those involved in social service delivery, are not providing the resources that charitable nonprofits need in order to engage in the democratic process in any meaningful way. While there are leading exceptions, the Foundation Center has found that only about 11% of private and community foundation grantmaking goes to advance “structural change” for those who need it most. Solving society’s biggest challenges will require much more than a 11% solution. One foundation and civil society expert, Michael Edwards has suggested a 50% benchmark.
The law is not as complicated or scary as many foundation executives and staff perceive. Essentially, private foundations can support advocacy by 501(c)(3) nonprofits in three critical ways. First, private foundations can provide general support grants that charities may use for any purpose including lobbying. Second, these foundations can provide project-related grants to charities that include lobbying so long as the grant is not “earmarked” for lobbying and does not exceed the non-lobbying portion of the project budget. Finally, private foundations can fund a whole range of advocacy activities that do not meet the narrow legal definition of lobbying. This includes activities aimed at the executive branch’s implementation of laws, advocacy that does not relate to specific legislation or target the legislative body, and advocacy training.
Community foundations are in an even stronger position than private foundations. As 501(c)(3) public charities themselves, community foundations may directly fund and engage in lobbying themselves to the same extent as charities. Community foundations are in a unique position to promote nonprofit advocacy in three distinct ways. First, community foundations can directly fund and train grantees in there area to engage in lobbying. Second, they can educate and train their donors with donor-advised funds on the importance of nonprofit advocacy and the law. Finally, community foundations themselves may convene stakeholders in their community and lobby on critical community issues.
CLPI trains and provides information and tip sheets for both private and community foundations and their boards of directors.
Community Foundations: Lobbying and Public Policy Engagement
CLPI’s Letter to the IRS
Funding Nonprofit Organizations that Lobby
Four Important Facts about Lobbying with Foundation Grants Fund